Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ultimate beef chili for one, with leftovers

August 19, 2012
Ultimate Beef Chili
Saltine Crackers
Gordon Biersch Blonde Bock

The last few weeks we were on vacation for Sunday dinner so I also took a vacation from blogging. But a quick recap might be in order.

On Sunday, August 5, thanks to Diane's brother, Jay, we found ourselves at Seattle's CenturyLink Field for a soccer game between the Seattle Sounders and the Los Angeles Galaxy. The game was sold out with over 60,000 boisterous fans in the stands. I had a local hot dog for dinner, nothing special. I also ordered a soft drink which was served in a plastic bottle. The server removed the top for me and I was at first thinking, "how nice, that's good service". However, he handed me the bottle but not the top which seemed odd. "I could spill it while walking to me seat", I was thinking. I later leaned that while the bottles are recyclable, the tops are not, so they separate them at the counter. Diane had a fancier "Seattle Dog", a polish sausage served with cheese and onions. Vegetarian Caryn had pizza.

On Sunday, August 12, Caryn and I were on the road and used  urbanspoon to find a Chinese restaurant in The Dalles, Oregon. This led us to Canton Wok, a real find. It had a 94% rating with a lot of reviews and it was inexpensive. Our experience was consistent with the glowing reviews. Caryn ordered a vegetarian Chow Mein and I got lemon chicken. These were served with soup, steamed rice, and hot tea. Both were delicious and the serving sizes were humongous; if we'd known we would have ordered half portions and still we would have gone out the door with plenty of leftovers. With tip our dinner was just over $20.

For my first Sunday back at home after vacation, I was alone. Caryn had returned to college and Diane was visiting her mom in Oregon. I wanted to prepare something that would leave me with easy-to-reheat leftovers for weeknight dinner. Since I was alone I didn't need to please anyone other than myself. Not that I usually worry a lot about what others would like for dinner. One of the reasons I started cooking once a week is because there are dishes I enjoy that Diane is unlikely to make. I don't try to prepare food that she doesn't want to eat, and she's yet to turn anything down, but it does provide me an opportunity to make things that, for one reason or another, appeal to me.

I decided to make a chili. I used a Test Kitchen recipe I'm pretty sure I've used before. In this recipe you create your own chili powder from dried chilies and I still had the right varieties of dried chilies in the cupboard from last time. They call this their ultimate chili because you do make your own chili powder and use dried, rather than canned, beans. The original recipe calls for four pounds of beef. I made half of this as it seemed a little much for just one person. Despite eschewing chili powder and canned beans, the recipe was not overly time consuming or difficult to prepare. The final product was a little too spicy for my taste, not being a big fan of foods that make my eyes water and nose run. I didn't know, though, if this was from the one dried árbol chili or from the two fresh jalapeños. That is, until I was reviewing the photos. I had purchased a 10 ounce can of diced tomatoes and hadn't noticed until I saw the photo that they contained diced jalapeños.

I had been thinking of making some corn bread, too, but didn't get around to doing that. So I served it with some saltine crackers (that I adorned with peanut butter and jelly) and a nice glass of beer. I was left with enough leftovers for several dinners and all I need to do is warm it up in the microwave.

 Ultimate beef chili from America's Test Kitchen

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Pasta Primavera

July 29, 2012

  • Pasta Primavera
  • Almost No-Knead Bread
  • Tossed Salad
  • 2009 Tré Monterey County Chardonnay

This was Caryn's last Sunday dinner at home with us this summer as she'll soon be returning to college. Thus it seemed only right and proper that this meal feature a vegetarian entrée. I asked her to suggest something but nothing special was forthcoming so I suggested Pasta Primavera. Primavera is Italian (and Spanish) for Spring and this dish features a lot of fresh, green vegetables. For most of my life the only pasta I ate was spaghetti with a red sauce. I now enjoy learning about other pasta dishes so this was an easy choice to make.

This dish is one where you really, really want to have your mise en place ready before you start cooking. It's similar to a stir-fried dish in that most of the work is preparing ingredients rather than cooking them. There are many ingredients which cook for only a short time so they all need to be cleaned, trimmed, cut, and measured ahead of time. You also want to have your two pots of boiling water ready (one for pasta, one for vegetables), a bowl of ice water, and a large skillet ready to go. The dish has three main components: pasta, vegetables, and sauce. The vegetables are blanched in boiling water, adding them in succession starting with green beans, which take the longest time to cook, and ending with peas. Dunking them in ice water stops the cooking and fixes their brillant colors. The sauce is made by browning mushrooms in butter, then adding tomatoes, and finally cream. For pasta the recipe calls for fettuccine.

For side dishes I made my favorite bread using America's Test Kitchen's almost no-knead recipe. I asked Caryn to make a salad. She included: Earthbound Farms Spring Mix, a fresh tomato from our little garden, and an heirloom tomato from our Farm Fresh to You box.  Diane selected a nice, non-oaked Chardonnay from a winery in nearby Morgan Hill that we had visited earlier this month with Caleb.

After several Sunday dinners with roasted meat it was nice to have something relatively light. The bread came out really well and we consumed over half the loaf. (It's good left over but never as good as when it is fresh.)  We all thought the entrée had too much pasta for the amount of sauce and vegetables, but it was still very good. We enjoyed it all and it was a suitable last Sunday home meal for Caryn. It's been nice having her home for the last few months and we'll miss her as she returns to college.

Pasta Primavera
Almost No-Knead Bread

The "sloppy chicken" sandwich makes a good dinner or lunch, just warm up some in the microwave and server on a bun. It only gets better as it ages and flavors continue to develop. I suspect it freezes well, too, but it didn't come to that.. The potato buns kept pretty well.  They did dry out some and became a little brittle, breaking apart when served with the chicken. I wonder how they would have been toasted, we didn't try that.

The pasta primavera was also very good left over, it just needed to be warmed in the microwave. Unlike the original meal their seemed to be plenty of vegetables this time, suggesting it was not well mixed. However, we still thought it would have been better with more sauce.